That Sun Power

March 05, 2017

That Sun Power

The decision to use solar for my van was one of the first decision I made. I knew I wanted my van to be as self-sufficient as possible, and if I couldn’t afford to have my house back home built to run off solar panels just yet, I knew there was no excuse for not putting a bit of money into making my home on wheels run off it. I wanted to be able to pull off the road, have everything I needed and not be forced to find a spot at a campground and pay for power. I wanted to have the full freedom to just stop where I wanted and do what I needed. 

If you know nothing about solar power, don’t get too excited. It doesn’t suddenly mean if you hook up one panel you can have a TV, your morning smoothie, a fresh baked loaf of bread from an oven or can blow dry your hair. Sure you could have that, but you might need to attach a trailer with about 10 more panels and get a massive battery bank to pull behind you before you’ll have those options. 

I have a basic 150 watt solar panel, so about 7/8 amp hours … actually what I get not the numbers the manufacturers tell you. In order for that power it means full sun and the panel pointed directly at it, which just isn’t always an option. I do get enough power to charge my computer, phone, camera batteries, run my small cooler and the most exciting things … I can run a toaster. Yes toast! 

I do have a small single burner element, but it draws a TON of power to just boil some water, so if it is an option for you, likely best to use a small gas stove when it comes to this sort of thing. I myself only have an emergency back country burner packed in my van in case I went days with no sunlight and really needed a hot tea. For our travels I didn’t want to have any sort of propane tanks in the van, because once they are opened they slowly leak, which with such a tiny van isn’t a good thing. I am happy to report I haven’t had to once use it yet, but it is nice if we head out on a full day hike to have the option to bring it along. 

Now the bad news … I did run into a bit of an issue with my charge controller a few days ago. Sadly, I had to unhook my solar panel from it. The controller was over charging the batteries, which the charge control is meant to make sure that doesn’t happen. It isn’t a good thing and can destroy the batteries and also can emit fumes that aren’t great to breathe and if not vented properly can actually become explosive. For the size of my battery bank I was never worried about it getting to that point, but I do need to make a few adjustments to my venting. I’ll plan to do this when I get back home and will update a video for you on how I do that. For now I just disconnect the solar panel when it is fully charged and hook it up in the mornings to get enough charge for the day. I have been VERY lucky with weather and only had a few cloudy days, which the solar panels still gets a charge trickling in on those days too believe it or not. 

If you have the option to have a panel for your van I highly recommend it. The battery bank can end up taking a lot of room, but with some creative storage can be tucked away without being too much of a problem. Many of the camper van, if you decide to go that route, have space built under the floor for them, which is nice. I have seen all sizes and shapes out there for panels, but the one you see on my van is the standard RV size and just happened to fit in the tiny space I had left for it on my roof. You’ll find others you can mount on a roof box if you aren’t like myself and needed to have a fan to keep the van cool for your dog taking, which takes up a tons of space and why I wasn’t able to have a box mounted up top. This is how you see most people I’ve seen have been doing it.  

I plan to do a post a little later on how much power all the things I have in my van actually use. Might be helpful in planning out your priorities on what you build into your roaming home, how big of a panel you buy, the size of batteries your use and what you decide to bring along with you. Sometimes it is tough to know without a little first hand experience, nothing wrong with that, but hopefully when I have that post up you’ll be able to plan a bit better for what you need and can add in a few things from the want list too. 

If you want to check out the video I made and are interested in my actual electrical hook up have a look at The Van Build posts and check out post 9. 

Happy travels!
Natasha





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